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In the sources from the 3rd and 4th centuries AH, there are numerous references to the heavy Muslim traffic, as well as Muslim settlement, in Kilah (tentative pronunciation), a coastal strip on the western part of the Malay Archipelago, which many scholars have considered as being a reference to the modern-day Kedah, in the northwestern part of Malaysia. None the less, by Muslim settlement in that particular juncture in history must only be understood a small population of a coastal village. The Qaqulah of the sources, a port city of the 2nd and 3rd centuries AH and a major destination for Muslim merchants in Indochina, may also be taken as a reference to a port in the region of Takuapa (the historical Takola), in the middle part of the archipelago. 

In spite of the preeminence of Islam in the Malay Archipelago, there is a paucity of sources regarding its historical development in the region. The first serious introduction of Islam in the Malay Archipelago dates from the 7th century AH (13th century AD). In the course of the expansion of relations between India and Malaya, Islam was brought into the area by Indian Muslims; a gradual trend which continued until the 11th century AH (17th cen. AD). At a particular juncture, rather impossible to pinpoint, one of the kings of Malaya converted to Islam, a development which facilitated the further attraction of Muslim merchants to the region. Soon, the sultanate that is referred to in historical sources as Malaka was transformed into a major center of trade in Southeast Asia, under whose auspices the message of Islam was spread throughout the various parts of the archipelago. In the northernmost region, the traditional historical sources of Kedah indicate the introduction of the Kedah people to Islam to have taken place in 906 AH (1501 AD) through the efforts of a certain propagator by the name of Shaykh `Abd Allah, whose conversion of the raja resulted in the swift Islamization of a major part of the region. 

In the process of Islamization of a vast part of Southeast Asia, there came into being an ethnic group which was based on religion rather than race, and whose members spoke in one of the tongues that, today, are referred to as Malay languages, or, in the jargon of the linguists, as western Austronesian languages. In the past few hundred years, this ethnic group, which has come to assume the general title of the “Malay”, has comprised a major proportion of the population of the Malay Archipelago. The formation of this group has been especially significant in terms of its contrast to the other inhabitants of the Malay Archipelago, i.e. the Siamese and Khmer ethnic branches, whose Malay-populated regions make up the state of Malaysia. The main part of Malaysia is located in the archipelago, with the eastern part of the country taking up the northern section of the island of Borneo. Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, which is home to a Muslim majority of 52.9 percent (1980 census). 

The history of Islam in Thailand has received little attention. However, clearly, the migrations by the Malay people and the formation of the Malay-Siamese hybrid ethnic group have been crucial to the spread of Islam in the region. 

Today, in the interior region between Thailand and Malaysia, as a result of the ethnic and cultural influences exerted by the Malay Muslims on the Siamese, there has appeared an ethnic group with a hybrid Malay-Siamese tongue who are known as the Samsam and who follow the Islamic religion. The Muslim population of Thailand, which, according to the census of 1991, comprises four percent of the population, is mostly concentrated in the southern regions of the country. 

Myanmar (Burma), in the northwestern part of Indochina, as a bridge for the trade between China and India, has for long been familiar with Islam and the Muslims of the region, both native and non-native, have, over the centuries, been in constant contact with their coreligionists in China and India. The migration of Muslim Indians began in the 7th century AH (13th cen. AD) with their settlement in the region of Arakan and picked up pace after the widespread immigration of the Bengalis in the 9th century AH (15th cen. AD). The kingdom of Arakan, in Myanmar, in spite of the preeminence of the Buddhist culture in the region, came to acquire social rites and customs quite similar to those of the Muslims. In fact, in the past few centuries, the conditions have become conducive for the mass migration of Muslim Indians and Chinese into the area. Yagar has studied the social conditions of the Muslims of Myanmar as a minority. Based on his information, the census of 1990 recorded their numbers as comprising 3.8 percent of the country’s total population. 

In the eastern part of Indochina, in the long-standing kingdom of Champa (central Vietnam), there existed a port referred to in the Islamic sources by the Arabicized “al-Sanf”. The region’s widespread trade relations with Muslim territories had resulted in the appearance of a Muslim settlement in the port city of Sanf, as early as the 3rd century AH. Many reports indicate the arrival of Islam in the region during the Ottoman period. A large number of Muslim immigrants in Sanf were `Alawites fleeing from Umayyad persecution. Based on certain evidence, ever since the 10th century AH, there existed such a Muslim immigrant community in the coastal region of Pan Rang, in the southern Champa territory, immensely influenced by the conquests of Sultan Mahmud in India. The sources on Java indicate that, in the 7th century AH, Muslim propagators continued to arrive in Champa, where, today, the ancient remains of minarets, domes and tombs point to the existence of a Muslim minority in the distant past. 

Among the crucial events in the expansion of Islam in the interior and eastern regions of Indochina, in the coming centuries, was the mass migration of Malayans, toward the close of the 8th century AH (14th cen. AD). This development, on the one hand, incorporated a new Muslim population into the demographic makeup of the region and, on the other hand, created suitable conditions for the acquaintance of the inhabitants of the peninsula with Islam, through the medium of their newly arrived neighbors. It has also given rise to a slow and yet long-standing trend toward conversion to Islam. Today, there exist considerable Muslim minority populations in Vietnam and Cambodia. The Cambodian Muslims, known by the ethnic title of Cham-Malay, live alongside the Buddhist majority, who refer to them as “Khmer Islam”. There are no accurate figures on the Muslim minority population in Cambodia. The census of 1993 indicated their numbers to comprise two percent of the country’s population. As regards the interior regions of Indochina, mention should be made of the small Muslim minority population in Laos, which comprised one percent of the country’s population at the time of the 1980 census.

* source: Pakatchi , Ahmad "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.560 - 562

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